Fresh and filling, the fare at Free Range in Seaside Heights will fuel your morning and give you a nutritious push at lunchtime.
Free Range, on the boulevard a few blocks West of the boardwalk, is a farm-to-table eatery that offers an alternative to standard luncheonettes and delis. Owned by Rick Lee, whose family also owns the acclaimed Asian restaurant Xina in Toms River, Free Range emphasizes organic and local ingredients.
The restaurant could use better signage—a tiny, lowercase “fr” on the door indicates that you’ve arrived—but a quick glance through the plate glass walls and you’ll be able to size up the place. Airy and clean, with dark wood floors and white-painted wooden tables and chairs, Free Range exudes calm.
Order at the counter and the friendly, efficient staff will bring your food to the table of your choice. The wait staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food and mission of Free Range, and they take good care of your meal. We couldn’t finish the salads we ordered, and when our server boxed them for us, she asked if we’d like extra containers of (delicious, homemade) dressings. Yes, please!
Portions are plentiful and quality is high at Free Range.
Swap out your Taylor ham, egg and cheese for a Morning Glory, Free Range’s signature breakfast sandwich. It is served all day, and is quite suitable for lunch. Soft scrambled eggs, chives, American cheese, smashed avocado, caramelized onions and spicy mayo all fight for space on a warm brioche bun. It’s messy, but tasty.
If the spicy mayo on the Morning Glory reminds you of something you’d find drizzled over sushi, you’re on the right track. The mayo, which includes Sriracha and lime, is also served at Xina.
Asian flavors come through in other dishes as well. Shiro Miso is a kale salad heaped with pickled carrots, brown rice, tamari, lemon juice, white miso, roasted beets, mushrooms, a poached egg, a scoop of smashed avocado and crisp, delicate squares of warm, sweet potato. The kale was tender and evenly chopped, and each leaf absorbed just the right amount of dressing.
Pork belly bahn mi showcased thick slices of slow-roasted Berkshire pork belly on a ciabatta roll, highlighted by chili aioli, thin circles of chorizo, pickled carrots and daikon, thick circles of raw jalapeno and cucumber, and a bouquet of cilantro, stalks included. The crunch of the toppings against the supple pork made for a welcome contrast.
A Farmer’s salad played up the sweetness of roasted beets, dried cranberries, candied walnuts and a citrus vinaigrette on a bed of mixed greens. Spoonfuls of goat cheese, pickled red onion and strips of moist, free-range chicken breast added heft to the dish.
Free Range serves Stumptown Coffee, the upscale brand from Portland, Oregon, known for its cold brew. But if you want to complement the Asian aspect of the food, go for a matcha latte, iced or hot. You also can get freshly squeezed juices.
In season, you can sit outside at picnic tables under the shade of a striped awning.
Off-season, you’d best call before you go. Free Range plans to stay open 8 am to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday through Columbus Day, but those hours are subject to change.
Free Range, 701 Boulevard, Seaside Heights. 732-250-8788, freerange.net or on Facebook.
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